Lecithins may reduce acrylamide formation: Study

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Acrylamide Amino acid Lecithin

Amino phospholipids and commercially available lecithins such as egg and soybean may reduce the formation of acrylamide, according to new research.

The study tested commercially available egg and soybean lecithins, as well as phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and ethanolamine. According to findings published in Food Chemistry, ​PE, ethanolamine and egg and soybean lecithins to all significantly reduce the formation of acrylamide in a simple model.

“All these results point to lecithins as potential acrylamide mitigating additives in the formulation of food products…They may also be used in combination with amino acids and proteins,” ​wrote the researchers, led by Dr. Rosario Zamora, of the​Instituto de la Grasa, Spain.


Acrylamide is a known neurotoxin and a suspected carcinogen formed by a heat induced reaction between sugar and the amino acid asparagine. The process – known as the Maillard reaction - is responsible for the brown colour and tasty flavour of baked, fried and toasted food.

In 2002 Swedish researchers found the carcinogenic compound was present at high levels in many foods​ . The discovery grabbed international headlines, alarming consumers and food safety authorities globally.

Since then acrylamide has been the focus of much research, and had been found in many foods, including, bread, crackers, sweet biscuits, deep-fried products and coffee.

Epidemiological studies have since reported that everyday exposure to acrylamide from food substances is too low to be of carcinogenic concern - however in March 2010 the European Chemical Agency added the compound to its list of ‘substances of very high concern’​.

The main focus of research has been on the compound’s effects in humans, and in how to improve production methods in order to reduce or remove acrylamide from foods.

The authors noted that various compounds that have shown promise in acrylamide reduction, however many can not be widely used as they are not recognised as GRAS substances, or because they are too expensive to be applied at an industrial scale.

The new study investigated the role of amino phospholipids and lecithins in acrylamide reduction, using asparagine/glucose and asparagine/2,4-decadienal model systems to analyse the formation of acrylamide.

Reduced Formation

The researchers reported the addition PE significantly reduced the formation of acrylamide in both asparagine/glucose and asparagine/2,4-decadienal models.

Ethanolamine was found to be more effective that PE in reducing acrylamide formation, with the authors observing an 85 per cent reduction in its presence.

Soybean and egg lecithin were also seen to reduce acrylamide formation in the model systems, however dipalmitoylphosphatylcholine (PC) was not found to mitigate acrylamide.

Although both PE and ethanolamine were found to significantly mitigate acrylamide formation, the authors noted that reductions were higher in the asparagine/glucose model system than in the asparagine/2,4-decadienal system.

Mitigating agent

The authors concluded that lecithins may act as mitigating agents for acrylamide in foods, noting that PE had a similar behaviour to that of the amino acid glycine.

“Analogously to glycine, its mitigating action may be related to the presence of a primary amino group in the phospholipid, which can both: react with carbonyl compounds, thus protecting asparagine from degradation, and add to the carbon-carbon double bond of the formed acrylamide,” ​stated the authors.

Source: Food Chemistry
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2010.10.084
“Amino phospholipids and lecithins as mitigating agents for acrylamide in asparagine/glucose and asparagine/2,4-decadienal model systems”
Authors: R. Zamora, R.M. Delgado, F.J. Hidalgo

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